Greek organizations have been around for hundreds of years in the U.S.
While these prestigious organizations often tout the virtues of leadership, unity, and giving back to the community, some of them have been in the spotlight in recent years due to toxic, institutionalized practices of hazing or bullying.
Nowhere is the culture of Greek more noticeable or influential on college campuses than in the South. Whether you attend a public or a private university, the culture of hospitality and good manners that the South is often recognized for comes to a head during the recruitment process, where girls are given a bid from prospective sororities.
I attended (and recently graduated from) a college in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), where over 40% of women at my university were part of a Greek organization. Although I was encouraged to, I didn’t end up joining a Greek organization for a variety of reasons, which I ultimately feel led to a more fulfilling college experience.
Over 40% of women at my university were part of a Greek organization.
For those wondering what sororities look like in the South, or even wanting to know everything you should consider before joining or not joining, here’s what you need to know.
Do People Go to College for School Anymore?
At my university, and in the SEC in general, it was common to hear about girls “suiciding” a house, meaning they pursued a bid from one specific house and wouldn’t accept bids from any others. But as you can probably guess, that didn’t always work out. So these girls would then transfer to a different university the next semester to pursue a bid at the same house that had rejected them the first semester.
Out of all the things I know now about sororities, this one continues to baffle me. It’s also not to say that Greek organizations specifically encourage women to do this — the requirements sororities demand of their members make them just as competitive academically as non-Greek students.
Some women would transfer to a different college for a second chance at the same sorority.
But I went through college as a student first. I chose to attend my university based on their commitment to the major I wanted to pursue, as well as the academic rigor and environment within that program. Whenever I interacted with girls in my classes or in my freshman dorm who planned on suiciding (knowing I probably wouldn’t see them the following semester), I saw their mindset of entitlement. It was also disappointing. I took school seriously and being around others who didn’t felt debilitating and discouraging.
A Culture of Appearance
As much as I love the place where I was raised and continue to live, I also have to recognize the South for its faults, many of which I only began to notice when I entered college.
A close friend I made in college, who left New England to come to the South (talk about culture shock), once observed how nice people were to her face when she knew they were talking about her behind her back. It’s hard to argue with this. While we in the South value politeness and manners, we also love to gossip.
I went through high school with little to no self-esteem, deeply entrenched body acceptance issues, and emerged as a painfully awkward and naive person. When I entered college, which I saw as the perfect opportunity to start fresh, I couldn’t believe how much the recruitment process — which I observed every fall, year after year — was based on looking a certain way.
I didn’t have the money, or the patience, to fit those particular standards. The idea of going through houses and meeting girls who I knew would later dissect every facet of my personality and appearance in private was overwhelming to me.
On any college campus, there’s very much a prioritization of appearance, wealth, status, and “who you know.” While I had friends and acquaintances, and even dated guys, who were part of Greek organizations who never flouted their wealth and privilege or intentionally intimidated others, there were countless others who used their Greek letters to perpetuate those exact things.
Furthermore, I constantly encountered people who truly had no idea how entitled they were. For those who put an emphasis on Greek organizations over everything else, sororities and fraternities were merely another channel through which to display that elitism.
I Benefited from Staying Independent
Coming into college, I was absolutely terrified. I was afraid that if I didn’t join a sorority, which hundreds of other girls in my class were a part of, I wouldn’t have any friends or create long-lasting relationships. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, and I made close friends who were both Greek and non-Greek.
But, for every Greek friend I had who understood why I wasn’t in a sorority, there was sure to be judgment from someone who didn’t understand. This didn’t come from girls in my class in particular, but specifically guys I went out with and alumni I met. I understand it now because specific houses have specific reputations, and the house you belong to says something about who you are, or at least who you’ve chosen to be in college. Being an independent, or someone who isn’t Greek, doesn’t give any automatic insight into who you are right away.
The money I saved by staying independent went toward paying off my college tuition.
Greek organizations, especially at huge public universities where there’s an almost mythical element surrounding houses, cost thousands of dollars per semester. With the money I could’ve spent on sorority dues, I worked towards graduating debt-free and starting my post-college adult life with financial freedom, which I eventually did.
As a newly-minted graduate, there’s much for me to look back and reflect on during my college years, and the Greek system is in some way a part of that. I don’t regret my decision not to join and never did while I was in school, just as I’m sure my Greek friends don’t regret their decision to join.
Greek communities continue to hold their members to exceptional standards and continue to do invaluable things in their communities, both locally and nationally. But as we’ve seen, there’s also much to be said for what happens when these organizations are left unchecked, and the irreparable damage that can occur. Not to mention, for many houses, a culture of entitlement and unforgiving judgment — especially to those who are not part of the system — is not only accepted but encouraged on countless campuses.
Every house and every campus is different. There’s a space for all of us in one way or another in whatever university we attend (if we decide to, that is). Greek communities are a crucial aspect of that belonging for so many and aren’t for others, and finding out which is right for you is just part of the journey.